Using Grades to Motivate

When thinking about school and all that goes on during school, grading and getting good grades is an important aspect. Students are sometimes more worried about getting a good grade on an assignment rather than learning the actual material. It is the teacher’s job to give students an assessment that is directly related to the learning of the specific topic. In order to enhance children’s learning O’Conner (2005), author of Seven Practices for Effective Learning, suggests some “assessment and grading practices that can enhance teaching and learning” (12). These include assessing before teaching and offering students choices.

In Wingers article, Grading to Communicate, he explains how to use grades to promote learning. The final grade a student receives in class is much more than just how well they do on tests. Teachers need to decide what learning they value most; a major part of the grade should be the part connected to the actual learning and then students work habits or attitude. These grades should be thought of as feedback for students. Feedback from teachers is among the top of the list. The only way for students to know how they are doing is to receive excellent feedback that teachers’ base on formative assessment.

Feedback is not a grade on a paper; just giving an “A” or “C” grade doesn’t tell students what they need to improve on. O’Conner (2005) makes it clear that feedback must meet four criteria in order to help student learn. “It must be timely, specific, understandable to the receiver, and formed to allow for self-adjustment on the students part” (16). Feedback should to be written in a way students can understand; thus helping them to improve the areas which are in need. In order for teachers’ to truly be familiar with the skills of their students, teachers should provide tests for their students.

O’Conner (2005) explains, “Diagnostic assessments provide information to assist teacher planning and guide differentiated instruction” (11). These types of assessments are given at the onset of a unit; they aren’t given for the purpose of grading. Instead they are a tool used by teachers to familiarize themselves with their students. They use this information to steer their lessons in the right direction. As a teacher gains insight into what to teach, a lesson may not be so appropriate because the students have already mastered the skill.

Teachers can figure out the best way that students learn and how to connect the material to their students based on their interests. Some types of diagnostic tests might include pre-tests, skills checks, and K-W-L Charts. The basis of assessment is to measure the amount of information a student has learned. Teachers know that students don’t possess all the same interests and learn differently; some are hands-on learners and in order to learn then need to physically be doing something; other children learn through discussion and succeed when being talked to. For others writing down the information is their ticket for learning.

With this information teachers should offer appropriate choices to students as a way to show they have learned. If teachers “allow students to work to their strengths” (O’Conner, 2005, 15) their understanding of the material will show through. The article gives the example of asking student to show their understanding of the relationship between geography and economy. He wanted the assignment to be something that really mattered, not just a paper, but something everyone would see. Each student was responsible for making something that would be displayed at a museum.

When students are doing something they enjoy they won’t realize they are learning and most likely will put more effort into it. It is a dream of all teachers to want their students to love learning as they do. Not all students are motivated by education. As a pre-service teacher I am trying to learn as much about grading, teaching, and assessment as possible in order to use it in a classroom one day. The ideas about how to use grades to report academic progress should have already been the norm, but unfortunately society has created this. Everyone wants to get an “A”, including myself.

Grades are used to determine a variety of things in real life. Schools use grades to determine class rank and to give out scholarships. Colleges sometimes look at grades to accept enrollment into the college. Because of these things students can’t help but be concerned about their grades. When I become a teacher I want to take some emphasis off grades and focus on teaching and students learning. I don’t have all the kinks out of this plan yet, but these articles have helped me form parts of the mold. The two practices I want to incorporate into my classroom are assessing before teaching and offering students choices.

It only makes sense to see what children know before trying to teach them everything. The idea of pre-testing makes things easier for me as well as my students. If I am trying to teach them things they already know, that lesson will be an unfortunate waste of time. When children are having a good time they don’t realize they’re learning. I want to ultimately make my classroom a fun environment, but still have a time to do work. I am a firm believer in the fact that students learn differently, so why not provide the tools they need to learn differently.

Following a unit about presidents, students can do a presentation about a specific president, draw a picture of a president and write about him, or write a report. When offering this choice, students will actually want to do the work because it is something they are interested in. After reading these articles I now understand that to produce grades that accurately report academic progress, a majority of it should be about the material. I think non-academic factors also need to be integrated into a child’s grade because it is part of how they learn.

I am a big advocate for taking points off major assignments that are late. I feel if I don’t do this I am giving the children that don’t hand it in on time more time to do the assignment as well as a bad lesson on procrastination. I see homework as a crucial part of the learning process, when assigning homework I am going to make sure it’s done, but not necessarily grade it. Homework is a time to work thought any additional problems the student has before mastering the skill. All these things put together will hopefully make my grading procedure one that is contoured towards helping students learn.